Category Music

Brilliant Songs #9: James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here” 

Sometimes a particular piece of music hits you as so insightful, so acutely reflecting the issues of your time, that the songwriter seems to be channeling some urgent message the gods require in order to restore a measure of balance and perspective to the insanity that abides, on the events of your historical moment that leave you shaking your head and wondering, “How can this be happening?”

And then, in a kind of doubling down on the songwriter’s vision, the message of his or her song in a subsequent era, rather than fading into irrelevance, instead achieves even more urgency, as the forces that helped shape the original message grow only more dominant and oppressive over time.

And then, as if anticipating the far more divisive and nativist rhetoric that would sprout from the seeds planted in the Bush era, McMurtry scores with this bull’s-eye painted with eerie prescience right on the back of the ...

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Brilliant Songs #8: Gretchen Peters’s “Disappearing Act”

Gretchen Peters has been making music for a long time now, and as befits a singer-songwriter who looks in about equal measure around at the world and inside herself for her material, her music changes with the years. This is even as her core obsessions, if you will—seeking a measure of consolation and sense of identity in a fractured, wounding world—continue to propel her creativity.

Last year, at age 61, she released “Dancing With the Beast,” a deeply felt set of meditations on aging, change, depression, family pain, even truck stop prostitution (no, that last one is not autobiographical).

All manner of topics, in other words, that befit an artist who confided to NPR last year in an interview: “I have a theory that there are two kinds of people—there’s people who find sad songs depressing, then there’s us.”

As someone who counts himself quite happily among that “us,” I found t...

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Seventh Annual “Songs of Summer”

Three summer-themed songs the first weekend of every summer solstice—that’s been the formula these past six years. And being as fond (some might more sardonically say “enslaved”) by ritual as I am, I can’t see any reason to give it up, at least until we run out of summer songs (sometime in the year 2525, perhaps, if man is still alive, if woman can survive, to cite a decidedly unsunny song…).

As always, suggestions for future songs are welcome, and if you want to check your suggestion against songs already duly honored in this series, all past selections are listed at the end of this iteration. Or just follow the link here to scroll through each year’s You Tube selections.

So: to the music, yes?

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Bruce Springsteen does an acoustic version of this song from a 2014 concert in Perth that was tempting to offer up here, but ultimately, Bruce is so identified with that rollicking band of his doi...

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On “Rocketman” and Artists, and Rocking One’s World

Prodigies rarely have it easy. No matter how much fame or wealth they may manage to accumulate on the basis of their outsized talent, they often wind up leading desperate lives, besieged by an inner desert of radical isolation from everything—loved ones included—that would offer them comfort and a reason to go on.

Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Phil Ochs, David Foster Wallace: barely the tip of a vast iceberg of genius talents who struggled mightily before cutting short their own lives when their inner demons overpowered the seemingly all powerful will-to-live that animates all life forms.

Despite multiple dark circumstances that had him pushing toward and then hovering on the edge of such self-destruction over many years, British rock star Elton John has managed to escape a place on that list, at least as of today, well into his 72nd year...

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Brilliant Songs #7: Vilray’s “Let’s Make Love on This Plane”

Rampaging lovers, suicide, infidelity, the deep fear of lost love—let’s face it: heartache, trouble and woe seem to be predominant in songs we come to think of as “brilliant.” You know: our true love abandoning us is deep, her falling to a wretched cancer deeper still. How many comedies and light romances have won Oscars, after all? Or even been nominated?
When’s the last time a Bob Dylan lyric elicited even a chortle?

I, no less than critics across MusicLand, am every bit as prone to this bias toward the serious if not flat-out sullen when I consider songs for this “Brilliant Songs” series...

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